For this President’s Day in the United States, we’re honoring the first black president in the Americas. No, not Obama – this guy was Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, the first black and indigenous president of Mexico. Known as the George Washington and the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico, Guerrero was a leading general in the Mexican War for Independence, and abolished slavery in 1829, forty years before Lincoln would do the same. Not only that, but he came from the “las clases populares” aka the working classes of Mexico, and rose from there to become one of the most influential leaders in Mexican history.
Tag Archives: Special Feature
Note from Ay-leen: On the blog, I reviewed Professor Lameman’s one-shot comic The West Was Lost. It’s a pleasure to have her speak here about her newest Native steampunk work, The Path Without End. This short film will be screened at the upcoming art festivals: imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 19-23, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario and the Skábmagovat Film Festival, January 26-29, 2012, in Finland.
The Path Without End is a retelling of Anishinaabe stories of Moon People who traveled here from the stars by canoe. The title is a direct reference to Basil Johnston’s retelling. In this telling, I recreate the Human and Moon lovers as they travel, propagate, and face the unending chase of colonization.
When thinking about the retrofuturistic side of science fiction, people have categorized it in various ways. Just recently, Lorenzo Davia went all the way as to delineate the various uses of “-punk” in science fiction, sorted by time period. Although this is one helpful way of thinking about retrofuturism, it is also quite limiting in the sense that that time periods and examples he lists run in accordance to Western history.
Does that mean non-Western cultures don’t have a concept of retrofuturism? Of course not, but one of the challenges of conceptualizing retrofuturism in a non-Western context is the understanding that non-Western cultures may conceptualize time itself in a completely different way than how it is realized in the West. In this manner, the flow of time can be circular rather than linear; a person can look forward into the past instead of backwards; destines are repeated or mirrored or fractured in a dream space; the relationship between one’s perception of history can fully exist in the now as opposed to happening back then.
Thus, a non-Western retrofuturistic aesthetic take may not necessarily translate to anachronisms within known history, but change the flow of time, technology, and human advancement to truly create an alternate world divorced from our own. Take, for example, the school of Afrofuturism; though stemming from Futurism, the concept behind this science fictional aesthetic combines ancient African myth, legends, and non-Western cosmologies with sci-fi tropes of space travel, alternate universes, and alien planets to carve out a space where the racial and cultural Other can exist in this extraordinary “future” outside of normative time.
I’ve seen Afrofuturism have a big impact on non-Western aesthetics in science fiction. There is also a distinctive musical element to this concept of retrofuturism too, especially with the involvement of jazz, techno, hip-hop, and dub (all genres that also have roots in the African diaspora).
The dynamic of this past-future-musical influence is seen in the latest work of visual artist and writer Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca, who identifies as Columbian-American with African, Native, and European ancestry. He has been published in the United States and internationally, and his works have been on display in numerous mueums, including the Mori Museum/Mado Lounge in Tokyo, Japan; LACMA in L.A.; MOCA in L.A., the Institute of Contemporary Arts [ICA] in London; and Parco Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Much of his work also incorporates collaborations with a diverse group of artists, writers, and spoken-word poets known as Unification Theory. According to their website, the art collective is described as:
street futurism: visualizing the possibilities of the future through the prisms of Graffiti, Hip Hop, Spoken Word, Digital/Video Artwork, Techno, Funk and Jazz. The unification of these diverse creative minds builds new visual and sonic structures. This innovative collaboration of live music, DJ mixing, digital/video artwork projections and live painting is a new form of performance.
Now how much of Vaca’s work can be considered retrofuturistic, when it is also futurist? The key is the conceptualization of his art as working under the same guidelines that Afrofuturism had established: as an artistic method that recognizes the importance of the past when re-imagining the future. So it’s not too difficult to see how Vaca has become interested in the steampunk aesthetic. After the jump, I talk a bit more with Gustavo himself about his recent work.
New Events: TeslaCon, Anachronism IV & Steampunk Empire Symposium. Plus, Indigenous Identities Series
Explanation about my scarcity here the past couple of weeks: midterms.
I also wrapped up the first giveaway for Beyond Victoriana’s 2nd anniversary, and give a big confetti-laden congrats to our winners:
Maria B. of California, USA
Archee S. of Queensland, Australia
Watch this space for more to come!
In the meantime, between classes, there are a few events that I’m looking forward to attend as winter approaches.
TeslaCon II is just around the corner, happening the weekend of November 18-20th, and I’m thrilled to be able to check them out after missing it last year. For folks unfamiliar with this convention, it’s claim to fame is being the first immersive steampunk con experience in the US. I’m actually quite interested in finally meeting Lord Bobbins after working with him for Tor.com’s Steampunk Week, and doing work that will go towards my current grad school project. I’ll also have the pleasure of panelling with Austin Sirkin on two panels about literary Orientalism — with one panel being “in-character” and one being “out of character.” Austin has given me permission to punch imperialists in the face at either one. ^_~
In December, I’ll also be at Anachronism IV: Dinosaurs! Think Dinotopia, or pterodactyl jet wings. This should be fun.
And, for those in the Midwest planning their cons in advance, I’ve recently been announced as a guest speaker for the Steampunk Empire Symposium, running April 27 – 29th, 2012 in Cincinnati, OH. They even wrote a nice spotlight too. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Aloysius Fox, one of the co-founders of the Empire, during NYCC and I’m quite excited to head out there next year.
In the meantime, over on the blog, we’ll be doing a brief spotlight series for Native American Heritage month, with the theme of “Indigenous Identities.” This series will be feature various accounts from history and today about native identity & NA notables in North America and Latin America. This has been a topic that’s been on Beyond Victoriana before (with guest blogs from Michael RedTurtle and Monique Poirier). I have a few particular posts lined up, but guest bloggers interested can still contact me with proposals.
It’s no secret that what we currently call “steampunk” has its roots in the speculative, imaginative fiction of the 19th century. People often cite Jules Verne as the founding author of the steampunk genre, but he was one of a number of authors who wrote fiction dealing with elaborate, futuristic technologies. During the 19th century, there was one man referred to as “the American Jules Verne,” whose works are full of quintessentially steampunk elements. There’s a steam-powered mechanical man, racing across the American plains, a bullet-proof, electrically powered 19th century stage-coach, hot in pursuit of the Jesse James Gang, not to mention an electrical flying machine. The stories revolve around a boy-genius inventor, and all of them are set, and were written, before 1896. The author’s identity was appropriately exciting to the imagination; he wrote under the intriguing pseudonym “Noname,” a mysterious, unknown presence, producing fantastic works at an astonishing rate, including twenty-six stories in 1893 alone.
Before there was television, before there were movie theaters, before there were comic books, there were dime novels. Called “penny dreadfuls” in England, these were cheaply printed, floridly written adventure stories, lurid, exciting, and intended for a popular audience. They were read by children and adults, men and women. They were working class entertainment, easily purchased, easily hidden from a schoolteacher or other disapproving authority figure, and easily devoured in a single day. They ranged from romances to detective stories, from horror to western, covering every genre that might appeal to readers eager for excitement. The works of Noname were wildly successful dime novels, telling stories of adventurers and inventors.
What is interesting about Noname, apart from the stories he created, is that he was two people. Much like the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Noname” was a pseudonym that was handed down from one man to another. The second, and by far the most prolific of these two men was in reality Luis Senarens, a Cuban American man from Brooklyn, who was just sixteen years old when, in 1879, he took over writing a series of dime novels about a boy inventor and adventurer named Frank Reade.
Looking at Steampunk from the Outside: A Roundtable Interview with Don Spiro and Martha Swetzoff on Tor.com
For Steampunk Week, we’ve featured a variety of perspectives on what steampunk is and what the community is becoming. One thing that fascinates me most is what the frak makes us so appealing to people outsideof the steampunk community.
Obviously, steampunk’s become a buzzword and has been getting media coverage up to wazoo; acting as a news sniffer for all things steam for Tor.com has kept me aware of the best and the worst of what people think. Sure, we’ve got the shiny, but what else makes the community so attractive? Is the general trend of geek chic just expanding to include everything brassy and classy? Are we just a quirky niche that fits neatly into a five minute evening news segment? Most interestingly, though, is why steampunk now? And what does that say about greater shifts in geek & pop cultures? (Yes, I’m in academia, these questions intrigue me.)
Everyone’s looking for an answer. Besides the plenty of news sources in ourown community, I’ve run into mainstream reporters and indie filmmakers recording their own stories about steam for the non-initiated. To wrap-up this theme week, then, I had a roundtable discussion with two documentary-makers, Don Spiro and Martha Swetzoff, who took some time off from interviewing others to let me ask them about some bigger questions about what they’ve experienced in steampunk.
Take a look around you. Despite our society’s leaps in technological development and civilized advancement, we lack an essential spirit. We can’t exactly pinpoint it, but we know it’s missing. It’s the same feeling an artist gets when they look upon an empty canvas and just don’t know what to paint, but they know that they’d like to at least paint something. I can tell you what we’re missing: A true renaissance.
The origin of this exercise is perhaps as odd as the idea itself: while weeding my devastated Mad-Max-style front yard in preparation to lay sod this past summer, I was listening to the audio version of Stephen Mitchell’s lovely Gilgamesh: A New English Version. As I listened, I imagined the how the story would look if it were steampunked. Who would Gilgamesh be? What would Enkidu look like? What city would replace Uruk? I never seriously pondered writing it down, until I hit 800 followers on Twitter, and decided to celebrate the landmark with 80 tweets comprising an outline of a steampunked Gilgamesh. As part of Steampunk Week here at Tor, here is that outline with annotated explanations.
It’s not that the phrase “Asian Steampunk” is intrinsically flawed. It’s just that the range of concepts displayed in “Asian Steampunk,” whether fiction, gaming, or costumes, are so so…limited. You’d never catch “Western Steampunk” limiting itself to cowboys, hard-boiled detectives, and British bobbies. Why then limit yourself to samurai, ninja, and geisha? There was so much more to the cultures and peoples of east Asia than that.